Friday, June 27, 2003

Reconstruction and Security in Iraq

The deaths of the 6 military policemen in al-Amara have pointed up just how dangerous and - especially- unpredictable Iraq has become. Despite the weird, heroic old-empire nature of the incident - the last stand in the police station against a thousand-strong armed mob - it shows yet again how politically and technically poor the Anglo-American administration of Iraq has been. Paul Bremer, the US civil governor, is quoted as telling a WEF meeting in Jordan that one of his first priorities is "diverting people and resources from state enterprises to more productive private firms...ending special deals and subsidies to force state enterprises to face hard budget constraints". What is wrong with the man? Can he not look out of the fucking window? There is no "more productive, private" power or water company to supply Baghdad. How could massive reorganisation possibly help those infrastructure enterprises - on top of everything else? What if the Free Democratic Iraqi Parliament - whenever Mr. Bremer decides the natives are sufficiently evolved to elect it - doesn't want its water privatising? Who the hell would buy a broken power network in a country without a worthwhile currency or a government, where they shoot at you?

There were several all-defining problems to be solved as quickly as possible after victory, and these were in effect the establishment of order, the rapid re-establishment of essential services, the establishment of a meaningful money, and the setting-up of Iraqi involvement in government. In the famous phrase, speed was more important than accuracy. Without water, power, transport, basic policing and a real currency, nothing will happen but further degeneration. With them, recovery can be dramatic, as shown by the example of the 1948 currency reform in Germany. (The potential for recovery was perhaps best shown by the farmers trying to get into Basra to market whilst fighting went on.) The importance of political representation really ought to be obvious. These four tasks should have been planned, not as a cheese eating civvie afterthought but as an integral part of the military operational plan and just as well as the military ops were. Now, months later, despite lies from Bremer and spin doctors, there is still 5 hours of power (if you are lucky), dodgy water, broken transport, three different and hyperinflationary currencies (different denominations of notes have different market values that are different from their face values, just to help), and anarchy. The only worthwhile money in Iraq was the so-called "Swiss dinar" issued by the Kurds, but using this would have been politically foolish. Dollarising - the Texan, macho, tough, healthy, non-European, non-deviant I'm-jest-a-kindly-homespun-nigger-burner solution - is even worse (imagine what your friendly local imam would say) and has the disastrous fault that US monetary policy is not and cannot be set for Iraqi conditions. It would also mobilise the pay of the US administrators and soldiers, creating that depressing phenomenon of a post-conflict ghetto economy serving rich foreigners with imported goods and drivers (why can UN officials never drive their own brand-new white Landcruisers?) whilst creating yet more inflation. What is needed is a New Dinar - what better symbol for the new Iraq? Given the sheer quantity of Saddam shinplasters in circulation, there would have to be a limit to conversion or (better) some mechanism to taper the conversion out, thus preventing a burst of inflation. Backing this could have been a financing facility - on the IMF perhaps - secured against oil revenues to provide immediate funding for reconstruction and government wages.

The political side needed only some sort of immediately-begun "advisory council" or whatever, with the specific task of preparing to elect a (say) Constituent Assembly or Constitutional Convention or whatever sounds good in Arabic. If you're meant to be bringing democracy, it helps to have some in your bag on arrival. These ideas are not amazingly novel; but why has so little in terms of practical ground realities been actually done? There was a lot of theology about free Iraq's glorious future, but far too little preparation for actual concrete steps towards it. One can only hope it is not already too late. In general, it bears out the point that in a situation of political war, the division between military and civil policy is a bug, not a feature. The divide is the problem - they have to unite as a single cohesive whole. Which means, clearly, democratic control over the military and, most of all, over the government itself. Montgomery spoke of his disagreement with the concept of "army co-operation": "There are not two plans, Army and Air, but one: Armyair. When you are one entity you cannot cooperate." The same applies to military, police and aid policy if a "war against terrorism" is to be anything other than a succession of futile and counter-productive punitive expeditions, always marching bravely forwards in the wrong direction.

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